One of the world's top ex­perts in coro­nary heart dis­ease is spear­head­ing a new gene edit­ing up­start out to trans­form the field

As head of the Cen­ter for Hu­man Ge­net­ic Re­search at Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal and the Broad’s Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Dis­ease Ini­tia­tive, Sekar Kathire­san has oc­cu­pied a sin­gu­lar po­si­tion as one of the world’s lead­ing ex­perts on the con­nec­tion be­tween ge­net­ics and coro­nary heart dis­ease. He’s tracked how peo­ple dealt a bad ge­net­ic hand — and the el­e­vat­ed risks that come with it — can lim­it in­her­ent dan­gers by lifestyle changes, and pon­dered over the ef­fects of dai­ly drugs used to treat mass pa­tient groups. And he’s reached a sim­ple con­clu­sion:

None of it is re­al­ly work­ing. 

In par­tic­u­lar, none of that is any­where near as use­ful as the ge­net­ic mu­ta­tions that he’s seen that con­fer a low­er risk of dy­ing and car­dio events. Par­tic­u­lar­ly the in­di­vid­u­als who car­ry mu­ta­tions “which break ei­ther of two genes — APOC3 or ANGPTL3 — rapid­ly clear triglyc­eride-rich lipopro­teins from the cir­cu­la­tion” and pro­tect them from heart at­tack.

Now, he’s mak­ing a pro­fes­sion­al leap to see if he and a squad of in­ves­ti­ga­tors at a new­ly launched biotech can dra­mat­i­cal­ly change the im­per­fect sta­tus quo through gene edit­ing.

“Imag­ine,” he tells me, “an in­jec­tion ad­min­is­tered once in life that safe­ly con­fers last­ing pro­tec­tion.”

No more pills. No fleet­ing com­mit­ments to healthy lifestyles that can’t stretch past Jan­u­ary. But a wide­spread and durable shar­ing of the same health ben­e­fits he’s seen in the very, very few. That’s the dream.

To­day, Kathire­san is step­ping down from his lofty aca­d­e­m­ic roles and mak­ing his de­but as CEO of Verve Ther­a­peu­tics, which is tak­ing its place in the hotbed of gene ther­a­py work around Cam­bridge, MA. The small team of 10 — soon to dou­ble in size — may not come close to ri­val­ing the big biotechs that oc­cu­py the streets in and around Har­vard and MIT. But rel­a­tive­ly few can claim the same kinds of con­nec­tions in the realms of drug sci­ence.

Ki­ran Musunuru

An­oth­er car­dio ge­net­ics ex­pert, Penn’s Ki­ran Musunuru and Har­vard pro­fes­sor J Kei­th Joung, who co-found­ed gene ther­a­py pi­o­neer Ed­i­tas, are on board as sci­en­tif­ic co-founders. There’s an al­liance with Beam Ther­a­peu­tics, the up­start next-gen gene edit­ing out­fit found­ed by Feng Zhang, one of 3 sci­en­tists wide­ly cred­it­ed with ush­er­ing in the CRISPR rev­o­lu­tion that has armed re­searchers around the world with ef­fec­tive tools to ac­com­plish their work. And Ver­i­ly will help work on the nanopar­ti­cles they plan to use for de­liv­ery.

Burt Adel­man, the for­mer EVP of R&D at Bio­gen, will chair the board, which in­cludes the Broad’s chief da­ta of­fi­cer, An­tho­ny Philip­pakis.

Beam will pro­vide some of the tech, and has an op­tion to step in on fu­ture com­mer­cial­iza­tion. Verve has al­so nailed down CRISPR patents, in­clud­ing Cas9 and Cas12a (Cpf1), from the Broad In­sti­tute and Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty.

And they have $58.5 mil­lion in cash to do their work from GV (you prob­a­bly still think of them as Google Ven­tures), which is step­ping in with ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners, F-Prime Cap­i­tal, and Bio­mat­ics Cap­i­tal to form the orig­i­nal syn­di­cate.

To be suc­cess­ful, the Verve team un­der Kathire­san will not just have to demon­strate their ap­proach can safe­ly work, but al­so that it ul­ti­mate­ly can be done on a mass ba­sis in eco­nom­ic terms. That’s a tall or­der, but they do have some ad­van­tages, per­haps most no­tice­ably the ad­vances the ground­break­ers have made at the FDA, says the sci­en­tist.

“Gene edit­ing has the po­ten­tial to com­plete­ly trans­form the treat­ment par­a­digm for the dis­ease,” says Musunuru. “Pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies con­duct­ed in the field, in­clud­ing work done in my lab, have shown the promise of gene edit­ing to safe­ly re­duce cho­les­terol and oth­er coro­nary artery dis­ease risk fac­tors.”

So far, gene edit­ing in the le­git­i­mate R&D world has been cen­tered on the painstak­ing ad­vances of a hand­ful of pro­grams aimed at rare dis­eases. And Verve will start with its own rare ail­ments, tar­get­ing pa­tient pop­u­la­tions with the high­est un­met med­ical need. But Kathire­san isn’t drop­ping his pres­ti­gious aca­d­e­m­ic roles to search for mar­gin­al gains. He wants to tack­le the whole threat on a world­wide ba­sis.

That, of­fi­cial­ly, starts at Verve to­day.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Psilocybin mushrooms (via The Denver Post)

In a key step for psy­che­del­ic re­search, mag­ic mush­room com­pound clears first clin­i­cal safe­ty hur­dle

Exasperated with the often-ineffective existing slate of antidepressants, COMPASS Pathways set up shop in London 2016 — and made a beeline for psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms.

On Wednesday, the startup said its man-made version of the chemical — which is illegal across geographies in its natural fungi form — had been well-tolerated in an early-stage, placebo-controlled trial in 89 healthy volunteers.

Al­pham­ab On­col­o­gy rounds out HKEX's sec­ond biotech IPO year with $230M raise and high lo­cal in­ter­est

Alphamab Oncology has inspired a surge of local interest in what will likely be the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s last biotech run of the year, pricing its IPO on the high end of the range and raising over $230 million (HK$1.83 billion).

After rejigging the offering structure and making up to 50% available for enthusiastic local investors, the biotech sold 179.4 million shares at $1.31 (HK$10.2) and saw its stock rise to $1.77 ($13.8) on the first day of trading.

For sale: Long-act­ing PhI­II GLP-1 di­a­betes drug that’s way be­hind ri­vals, now spurned by Sanofi

Almost exactly 4 years ago Sanofi came to the bargaining table with South Korea’s Hanmi bearing $434 million dollars in cash and offering about $4 billion in milestones to in-license their once-weekly GLP-1 injectable. The pact was intended to revive their ailing diabetes division. Instead, it turned into a very expensive grave to mark the end of Sanofi’s R&D ambitions in the field.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson used efpeglenatide’s demise — while committing to paying hundreds of millions of more dollars to push it through 5 late-stage studies — as a marker of the company’s determination to stay focused on first and best-in-class drugs.

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Parkin­son's trans­plants emerge as stem cell pi­o­neer Jeanne Lor­ing joins race

Jeanne Loring hadn’t studied Parkinson’s in 22 years when she got an email from a local neurologist.

The neurologist, Melissa Houser, didn’t know Loring had ever published on the disease. She was just looking for a stem cell researcher who might hear her out. 

“I think I was just picked out a hat,” Loring told Endpoints News. 

At a meeting in Loring’s Scripps Research office, Houser and a Parkinson’s nurse practitioner, Sherrie Gould, asked her why there was so much research done in stem cell transplants for other neurodegenerative diseases but not Parkinson’s. They wanted to know if she would work on one. 

What does $6.9B buy these days in on­col­o­gy R&D? As­traZeneca has a land­mark an­swer

Given the way the FDA has been whisking through new drug approvals months ahead of their PDUFA date, AstraZeneca and their partners Daiichi Sankyo may not have to wait until Q2 of next year to get a green light on trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201).

The pharma giant this morning played their ace in the hole, showing off why they were willing to commit to a $6.9 billion deal — with $1.35 billion in a cash upfront — to partner on the drug.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Large advertisements for the drug Vivitrol decorate the walls of Grand Central Station on June 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein via Getty)

FDA slaps down Alk­er­mes for mis­lead­ing Viv­it­rol ads — don't for­get vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to opi­oid over­dose

The ads piqued interest as soon as they started appearing in 2016: at Grand Central Station, on the Red Line in Cambridge, and on a billboard off the New Jersey Turnpike. All showed a young person, generally with his or her arms crossed, and the question, “what is Vivitrol?”

Vivitrol’s maker, Alkermes, was in the midst of a marketing and lobbying campaign to promote the anti-opioid addiction drug — a campaign that would face significant backlash for tarnishing competitors despite little evidence for Vivitrol’s superiority.

FDA in-house re­view spot­lights an is­sue with one of Hori­zon's end­points but notes ef­fi­ca­cy for lead drug

The FDA in-house review highlights a disagreement of investigators’ use of a key endpoint by Horizon Pharma in the late-stage trial for the top drug in its pipeline, but largely agreed that the antibody was effective.

Horizon submitted a BLA for thyroid eye disease (TED) drug teprotumumab in March, less than two years after they bought the drug (and the rest of a division) from Narrow River for $145 million upfront. With breakthrough status, priority review, orphan designation and in-house sales projections of up to $750 million, the one-time Roche reject became the marquee pipeline asset for a company that’s developed some of the world’s most expensive drugs.